Bush Babiesby Nicky Flake-Off / Images by Kapula / 14.06.2013
I went to Bushfire as an antidote to AfrikaBurn. Not that AfrikaBurn wasn’t screamingly amazing; it’s just that I have a mild allergy to wide-eyed hippie rhetoric of the sort delivered on these illustrious pages by my dear friend Simon Davis. The Burn was spectacular and beautiful and weird and hedonistic, but come on folks, if there’s one thing we all should have learned from the ‘60s it’s that you don’t change the world by having a party. Not even a party where you clean up after yourself. (Which – sshhhh – isn’t really all that radical.)
It was clear from the outset that I wouldn’t have the same problem with Bushfire, or ‘MTN Bushfire’ as it’s currently known. Unfortunately I also have a mild allergy to branding, particularly of the aggressive sort practiced by large multinationals. There really is no pleasing some people.
And so off to Bushfire I went, along with a small Italian anarchist, a pair of Zimbabwean blaggers and a car full of gin. Fortunately the gin lasted all through the interminable million hour wait at the Oshoek border post after which we were safely in Swaziland, a lovely little nugget of a country (‘country’?) that seems to exist solely so that the king has access to lot of girls and MTN has somewhere to stick marketing material. Before you ask, no, the Swaziland Democracy Campaign did not call for a boycott this year, so my fun was bloodless.
And what a lot of fun there was. I’d expected to be outraged at the shameless commercialism but Bushfire seduced me with its niceness, not to mention the fact that a) it’s full of ridiculously hot people and b) everyone’s totally chilled out. Maaaan.
But the music! The music is why I was there. It’s impossible to spend too much time in a sunny field, clutching a sweaty pint of lager, listening to someone you’ve never heard of from a country you’ve never been to playing astonishing stuff on an instrument you don’t recognise. Truly, it is a thing apart, and Bushfire delivered on all fronts (until the beer ran out on Sunday and we were reduced to desperate measures involving pint glasses and box wine).
We missed most of the Friday due to some ineffectual planning on my part and then lost another half hour or so trying to convince the gate staff that our two tickets were actually four. By the time we got in – or at least by the time those of us with tickets got in – Toya DeLazy was in full swing. I admit to being a bit tired by this stage, but I thought she smashed it. And her outfit was nifty. This is a controversial opinion; other people I spoke to over the weekend were annoyed at having a Friday headliner who was ‘so Metro FM’, but she was sparky and vibrant and really went for it, which is exactly what you want in a pop star. You have to respect a festival that programmes mainstream acts alongside experimental oddballs with no distinctions made, meaning that you’ve got no choice but to be exposed to all kinds of things you wouldn’t ordinarily listen to. Also divisive were the next act, Veranda Panda, an endearingly gauche pair of South Africans, a guy DJing and a girl with a violin. After much discussion the following day a friend and I came to the conclusion that they had some proper musical sense and were really Not That Bad, much to the disgust of everyone else we knew, who thought they were horrendous.
But you don’t want to hear about the okay bits, you want to hear about the amazing bits. Of which there were many. Whoever was DJing on the Friday night kept me up shufflin’ and grindin’ past 4am, which is pretty impressive given how much I was sloshing as I walked and far into my 30s I am. Bomba Estereo, the Colombians who headlined Saturday night, were unambiguously spectacular – shouty, sweaty, sexy, jumpy, hilarious. Everyone in the crowd fell instantly in love with their singer and marvelled at their extraordinary drummer. Reunion Island’s Nathalie Natiembe, a tiny punky woman with an enormous voice and a great keyboard player, owned the Saturday afternoon, and Joburg oddball funk hipsters The Brother Moves On did a magnificent (if slightly déjà vu-ey for those of us who’ve seen them before) set that evening.
The thing that really blew the top of my head off, though, was Shangaan Electro. I’d like to tell you what these guys are but I wouldn’t know how to start. The bastard test tube offspring of LCD Soundsystem, a traditional wedding dance, a cheap horror film and an ideologically dodgy tourist attraction, they truly are weird and dance-tastic. And so not the people you expect to see on a festival stage. Apparently this sort of thing is going on all over Limpopo, not to mention Zim and Malawi, so I’ve definitely been missing a trick.
The only act that I genuinely didn’t enjoy was, perhaps unsurprisingly, one that most of the crowd adored. They’re called The Soil and do three-piece a capella gospel, or four-piece if you believe their claim that God is in their band. Personally I think God would be more likely to be in Queen. (Queen with Freddie, obviously.) I usually really like gospel music but not when it’s anodyne, slightly off key and slowing down my marvellous evening by making everyone at the party shift into earnest mode.
All of which said, though, Bushfire left me with a lovely warm feeling that not even an endless sea of MTN yellow could dislodge. The crowd was one of the most chilled and diverse I’ve experienced in southern Africa, featuring all kinds of races, ages and lifestyle choices. It’s not often that you see a dreadlocked ethno-bongo-radical mixed race couple (Mozambique/indeterminate bit of Europe) dancing next to a high fashion Sandton mall rat in towering heels and Gucci shades.
In all, great food, a pleasant campsite, friendly security, a fair amount of idiocy and a practically endless supply of toilet paper make for a very good weekend of looning about in fields. And did I mention all the hot people?
* All images © Kapula